Post-Gustav, here are my thoughts:
1. Let's not give too much credit to our officials as to their plans for evacuation. they did the minimum that any official should always do (and have never done in NOLA before): take care of the elderly, sick and less fortunate. Yes, they provided transportation, but from most reports, did not provide courteous, respectful attitudes. Stories of curt, yelling drivers and people waiting for hours in the sun, no tents or benches for elderly, small children, or water while waiting. Wrong, try again.
*when the official (in charge of evacuating folks) was being asked whether he thought the evacuees deserved to know where they were going (before getting on the bus) said something like If you don't have the resources,
you're on MY program.Nice.
*the fact that officials were not giving out any information on Thursday or Friday-waited til Saturday to give the official "get your butts out of town" BS speech- let's not even talk about the Mother of all Storms crap, which was dangerous hyperbole at best. Information could have started earlier; many businesses waited until Sat afternoon to know what to do; should not be impossible to allow business associations some info about possible plans from city ahead of time.
2. It seems to me that asking our city and state officials to plan and share information beforehand is not too much to ask. Designate neighborhood people to be involved in hurricane preparation (each person should have no more than 5000 people areas; use the excellent Beacon of Hope system for this) spread information sent via email or phone trees, create lists beforehand of who needs travel out of town and have neighbors drop them off, use RTA to bring people to points, give maps out (ahead of time) for contraflow and gas stations.
Have Red Cross or state officials set up way stations at points out of town with shelter lists, up to date traffic issues, water, protein snacks so evacuees are not driving blindly, without nourishment and without some idea of what is coming up.
3. City and state officials need to communicate with the states that are getting the evacuees, even with the hotel and motel associations, extracting some basic promises, and create a set of principles that fellow states will follow during these times, like allowing room sharing, pets in kennels, empathy and compassion applied. Set up hotline for any price gouging that is followed up on after.
City and state officials should publicly ask host areas to do their best to shelter all, and to remember that money is being spent by those visitors while there.
4. The same system that allows thousands of business to share information via email can be used to keep information flowing to residents. I received 15 emails from WDSU about weather conditions and GNO Fair Housing kept me up to date on official city notices, but nothing NOTHING from the city itself.
Easy enough to create hotlines, emails from city council to those aforementioned neighborhood town criers, and not to assume that the national media is ferreting information out to the residents.
5. rentry: as soon as winds and rain went below danger level (I hear 30 mph is what utility crews use), there should be a publicized plan to renter zip code by zipcode, every 4-6 hours more zips allowed. using video and cameras, city officials can be posting visuals and letting people know trouble spots to avoid, while allowing a orderly rentry within 24 hours after the storm. certainly, if levees need to be checked, those zips can be delayed til the last, but we all know that many zip codes were ready an hour or two after the storm. My mother-who stayed in the Quarter- had little rain, some tree damage, but had electricity and walkable area by Monday at 4 pm.
6. Electricity. there is no way that residents should be left out of their homes because electricity is off. We suffer with outages regularly and can be the best judge of how well each of us can exist without electricity. dangerous power lines, flooding; yes those can be issues, but easy enough for our city to close off those few areas needed to be repaired.
let's include reasonable expectations for evacuations, not everyone will leave. Be clear what will happen if you stay, no assistance, no shelter, but reduce the threats from city officials to residents when saying that.
reiterate again and again curfews will be enforced from 24 hours before landfall til winds are below 30 mph,
evacuate elderly and sick and indigent early with more respect and with a plan for return.
remember, funds are low for many residents, ask nearby states to watch price-gouging closely (have non-essential state officials assigned to travel in evacuation areas talking to and checking with evacuees situations)
offer information throughout (every 4 hours I think-the city and state both- should be issuing information)
allow rentry as soon as possible by zip code; using state ids only as entry.
*Use the attention from the rest of the world at these times to point out needs for wetland restoration, coastal erosion, sediment loss and ask for pressure to Congress to get support to protect national economic and natural resources to reduce hurricane loss.
Let's take this seriously and offer dignity and respect to all while we suffer through this again and again.